The Conservative and Labour leaders at Peterborough City Council both accused their opponents of copying their policies during Monday’s Full Council meeting.
In the first meeting since the local elections left the Conservatives without a majority Cllr John Holdich - who remains council leader - and Labour’s Cllr Shaz Nawaz traded barbs about a failure to work closer together and who had come up with policy ideas first.
Cllr Nawaz said: “I am intrigued that Cllr Holdich has shared out his cabinet roles, and that he talks about ‘priorities’.
“I may have missed it, but I haven’t heard anything said by him tonight mentioning pledges, a clear direction or policies giving us an idea of what the city council is going to achieve over the next 12 months.
“All he’s done is basically gone through every cabinet role, telling us who is doing what – which, if we spent five minutes online, we could find out quite simply by ourselves.
“What I am fascinated by is the Labour Party pledge to build 3,000 homes over five years, and I’m ecstatic that Cllr Holdich has listened to us, giving housing the importance it deserves by putting Cllr (Steve) Allen in charge of it.
“I’m also very pleased that he’s taken notice of the Labour pledge to make Peterborough one of the UK’s leading digital cities. So what has Cllr Holdich done? He’s created a new cabinet role for Cllr (Mohammed) Farooq who will be in charge of digital transformation.
“And I hear that Cllr Holdich is now making a pledge that we’re going to bid to become ‘City of Culture’ in 2029.
“This all sounds like ‘deja vu’ to me. I’ve heard this somewhere before - it’s all in the Labour Party manifesto 2019.
“But I what I find most interesting is when Cllr Holdich talks about working with other groups. Last year in my speech I said that I would ‘reach out and work with the Conservatives’.
“I met with Cllr Holdich and he said ‘yes, let’s work together’, and since then not once has he come to me and said ‘Shaz, let’s sit down and work together’, or ‘how can we work together?’
“You make a good speech, Cllr Holdich, about working together – but I’m yet to see that.”
Cllr Holdich said: “All we ever get out of the opposition in here is negative and destructive; it’s never constructive.
“We don’t have all the knowledge or all the wisdom, but Cllr Shaz Nawaz is always promising this and promising that, but it’s only ever him spending somebody else’s money. Whenever it comes to the end of the year, none of those figures are ever in his budget.
“He says he would build 3,000 homes in five years, but where will he get the money from? Cllr Nawaz says it is a Labour group idea to have Peterborough as City of Culture, but we’ve been working on that idea for months before he hijacked the story and put it in the Labour manifesto.
“The reason we didn’t announce it sooner is because it’s going to cost Peterborough about £5 million, and we have to evaluate whether we can afford to host it, or not afford to host it.
“The truth is that we are happy to talk to other parties about any proposal. I have approached Cllr Shaz Nawaz in the past, and even though he denies it, he did come to see me and I told him globally what we wanted to do.
“The next week it was in his column in the newspaper – now that is not what I call ‘cooperative working’.”
The local elections left the Conservatives with 28 out of 60 seats and needing the support of the three Werrington First independents for Cllr Holdich to be re-elected as council leader.
Labour has 17 seats, the Lib Dems nine, Green Party two and Liberal Party one.
Leader of the Lib Dems Cllr Nick Sandford said: “I’m grateful to the leader of the council for sharing in advance his cabinet appointments.
“I’m also grateful that he’s reduced the number of cabinet appointments by two this year, thereby saving some money.
“But if you look through the delegations of the cabinet members you’ll see that most of the decision-making power is actually concentrated in the hands of the council leader and two or three other councillors.
“Our party had a really good result at the local elections earlier this month, seeing three new Lib Dem councillors who I think will make a tremendous addition to our team.
“So let me be clear about one thing - the Liberal Democrat group on the council is intent on providing effective scrutiny of, and, where necessary, opposition to, the Conservative administration.
“Cllr Holdich didn’t say a lot about what his priorities are, but I suspect we will probably share some of them.
“I welcome the addition of another Green Party councillor which reflects the massive awareness of environmental issues across Peterborough, and indeed in the country.
“We have to recognise that the Conservatives are still by far the largest party on the council.
“But equally they have to recognise that they no longer have overall control, and they need to start behaving like that by involving other parties in the council decision-making process.
“A lot of onus will now fall upon our Werrington First colleagues – they need to decide whether they are genuine independents, or merely just an adjunct to the Conservative group.
“We would like to make major constitutional changes and scrap the cabinet system and replace it with a more accountable committee system like they have in Cambridgeshire.
“People tell me all the time our council is arrogant, over centralised and un-responsive to the views of the public. Well, I firmly believe it is the cabinet system that is the source of that problem and we should now take this opportunity to work, cross-party, to solve it.”
Cllr Stephen Lane, leader of the Werrington First Group, said: “During the recent local elections one of the candidates tried to belittle Werrington First, calling them a ‘little known councillor’.
“Well, the three of us are still here, and despite being ‘little known’ we now find that the world and its dog all want to know what Werrington First will do with its perceived ‘balance of power’.
“We welcome the appointments Cllr Holdich has made with a certain amount of trepidation; but here is a message for everyone – we will vote for whatever becomes effective and efficient for Peterborough.”
Cllr Julie Howell, leader of the Green group, said: “On my first attendance at Full Council a year ago, and at every Full Council meeting that followed, remarks were made to me by members of this council about how lonely I must be as the first, and only, Green Party councillor.
“Well, as you can see I’m no longer alone. Cllr Nicola Day has joined me on the council, and I hope that every new councillor will be made to feel welcome here.
“We come to this chamber to do the job that we were elected to do but we welcome the opportunity to work with members of all parties.
“We would like to see true leadership so that Peterborough can achieve its goal of becoming an environmental capital, where the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transport are primary with speed limits of 20mph introduced on all residential streets as a default.
“We are ‘grassroots’ Greens – we like to get dirty, and we like to get stuck in. We welcome every opportunity to assist our fellow councillors in advancing Peterborough’s ambition to become an environmental capital over the year to come.”